Poverty and immigration

by Russ Roberts on September 6, 2007

in Data, Standard of Living

Robert Samuelson points out wisely that the measured poverty rate is a misleading measure of economic progress when there is immigration (a common theme here at the Cafe):

The standard story is that poverty is stuck; superficially, the
statistics support that. The poverty rate measures the share of
Americans below the official poverty line, which in 2006 was $20,614
for a four-person household. Last year, the poverty rate was 12.3
percent, down slightly from 12.6 percent in 2005 but higher than the
recent low, 11.3 percent in 2000. It was also higher than the 11.8
percent average for the 1970s. So the conventional wisdom seems amply

It isn’t. Look again at the numbers. In 2006, there were 36.5
million people in poverty. That’s the figure that translates into the
12.3 percent poverty rate. In 1990, the population was smaller, and
there were 33.6 million people in poverty, a rate of 13.5 percent. The
increase from 1990 to 2006 was 2.9 million people (36.5 million minus
33.6 million). Hispanics accounted for all of the gain.

From 1990 to 2006, the number of poor Hispanics increased 3.2 million,
from 6 million to 9.2 million. Meanwhile, the number of non-Hispanic
whites in poverty fell from 16.6 million (poverty rate: 8.8 percent) in
1990 to 16 million (8.2 percent) in 2006. Among blacks, there was a
decline from 9.8 million in 1990 (poverty rate: 31.9 percent) to 9
million (24.3 percent) in 2006. White and black poverty has risen
somewhat since 2000 but is down over longer periods.


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